MIAMI — It's possible that in Kobe Bryant's challenge with the Lakers, we can see elements of Dwyane Wade's task with the Miami Heat.
Both are big scorers with a knack for making winning plays when nothing else is working. Both are trying to strike a balance between taking over and setting up teammates. Both are . . .
"No," Wade said, cutting off the comparison. "Not even close. Not now."
The difference should come into focus when the Lakers play the Heat tonight in Miami. But simply looking at their respective team's rosters and the NBA standings confirms how things have changed for both players after their Shaquille O'Neal years.
The Lakers sagged after they sent O'Neal to the Heat in 2004, while Wade and O'Neal would team for a championship in 2006. Now O'Neal is in Phoenix, Wade is toiling for a Heat team that is at .500 and Bryant's Lakers have started this season 21-3 after losing to Boston in the Finals last spring.
The Heat, undersized and young, has shown little ability to score with Wade in a recent slump. The Lakers, with veterans and size in abundance, win regularly when Bryant doesn't do it all.
The Heat is 6-3 when Wade scores at least 30 points, 6-9 when he doesn't. Bryant, the reigning league MVP, has just four 30-point-plus games this season and yet Los Angeles is rolling.
But during the 2005-06 Lakers season, Bryant averaged 35.4 points as the Lakers finished 45-37 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. After talking to Wade while they were teammates for the United States' gold medal-winning team at the Beijing Olympics, Bryant senses Wade isn't inclined to do the same.
"D. Wade is different than I am, a different personality," Bryant said Thursday night during a promotional appearance at a Florida high school. "I am more a pure scorer, so my way to help the team was to score the ball. I had to score  points a game just to beat below-.500 teams.
"I think D. Wade is struggling with [rebuilding] because he wants to pass the ball, set up his teammates. He's used to being on teams where he can do that."
It's not that simple for Wade this season as the Heat tries to be competitive despite its deficiencies in experience and personnel.
"It's tough," Wade said. "A lot of people have went through it. I would rather have a rebuilding year now when I am 26, than have a rebuilding year when I am 30-something, I can tell you that."
Bryant, 30, is past that with the Lakers.
He's been criticized for his penchant for one-on-one scoring and praised for the extraordinary talent that allows him to win that way, but there's no real need for that with this Lakers team.
On nights when Bryant prefers to defer, his scoring options include center Andrew Bynum, and forward Pau Gasol.
The Lakers had the luxury of replacing Gasol, who was sick, with Lamar Odom in the lineup Wednesday and watching him go for 17 points and 12 rebounds in a 116-114 victory over New York.
Wade has heard the same "MVP" chants as Bryant but has acknowledged that it won't happen as long as the Heat hovers around mediocrity.
"Kobe went through these years of rebuilding after Shaq left L.A.," Wade said. "And now they've got what he's been building for. He has a great team.
"I don't think he minds some nights scoring 40 points and some nights scoring 15. They are winning."
Bryant drops in
Bryant surprised the Dillard High boys' basketball team in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., with an appearance to promote his new Nike shoe. He talked with the Dillard players before treating them to customized shoes.
With his shoe set to launch today, Bryant said the schedule allowed for the event at Dillard.
"Every time I come to a high school like this I think, 'Man, did I look that young back then?' " Bryant joked.